Jennifer Maiden’s win of the overall prize for the Victorian Premier’s Prize for her poetry collection Liquid Nitrogen is a boon for Australia’s women poets. As Paula notes in her roundup of these awards, author Magdalena Ball reviewed this collection, contemplating its themes of waking and politics, and its technique of layering:
Though Maiden’s poetic description of the Carina Nebula alone is worth the price of the book, this building up of smaller things into something larger, powerful, and transformative, is exactly what Liquid Nitrogen does, taking the many cultural, political and literary characters and references, in order to create a complex theory of everything, woven together on a Maiden’s “spinning jenny.”
Short stories also garnered recognition in the prize stakes. Cate Kennedy’s Like a House on Fire was shortlisted for the 2013 Stella Prize and won the 2013 Steele Rudd award for short story collections offered by the Queensland Literary Awards. It was reviewed by 6 readers for the AWW challenge – If Not, Read, Kathy, Janine, Denise, myself and Belinda – making it our our most-reviewed collection of stories.
This shows that, although winning brings literary recognition, readers are most the most important prize of all. Happily, there were 33 reviews of poetry collections last year, eclipsing 2012’s count of 7 reviews, and 89 reviews of short stories or short story collections, up from 76 last year – an amazing effort! Below are some highlights from the year.
Phillip Ellis and Jonathon Shaw blitzed the reviews, with 10 and 8 penned respectively. Philip paid care and attention to collections by Indigenous authors, including Oodgeroo Noonuccal’s The Dawn is at Hand, Anita Heiss’ I’m Not Racist, But … and Elizabeth Hodgson’s Skin Painting. The latter, winner of the 2007 David Unaipon award for Indigenous writers, has ‘a level of candour running throughout the whole’, perhaps because it is, as Philip explains, ‘nonfiction poetry, poetry arising out of and engaging with the poet’s lived experience of the world and her life’.
Lesbian relationships featured in Limen, reviewed by Sue of Whispering Gums, and Marilyn of Me, You and Books, while Phillip Ellis reviewed Domestic Archaeology, about poet Kelly Pilgrim-Byrne’s conception of a child with her partner. Dorothy Porter’s lesbian thriller classic The Monkey’s Mask was reviewed by If Not, Read and WriteReaderly, who sums it up nicely: ‘The plotting is smart, the affair is sexy, Sydney is gritty and real, the poems are bitey and sharp – a damned fab book.’
In terms of other contemporary works, Jon Shaw penned an entertaining review of Kate Lilley’s Realia (in tandem with John Tranter’s Ten Sonnets) in which, piqued by Lilley’s poem “GG” on the sale of auctions from the estate of Greta Garbo, he consulted the list of said items on the web to check her source, and uncovered an image of a collection of irons. ‘Some liberty taken as befits a poet,’ he concludes, ‘but an honest steal.’
What I enjoyed about Jon’s review is his articulation that poetry isn’t necessarily easy, as he writes, ‘Neither of these books appealed to me much on first contact, but when I came to write about them, even so spottily, I warmed to them both.’ Even if a poem seems difficult on a first reading, persistence with it pays off. The poem opens up as you get to know it, and might even become a friend. I look forward to reading your reviews on making the acquaintance of works by Australia’s women poets over 2014.
If you’d like to read the reviews in full, and also look at others that I haven’t had space to mention here, you had head to our Weebly pages:
When I look at the pages for our short story reviews, I’m always blown out of the water by the diversity of genres. They cover speculative fiction, classics and literature, nonfiction, romance, contemporary fiction and historical fiction. I’ve penned a snapshot of reviews from these genres below.
Readers of spec fic/fantasy/horror/sci fi were our biggest contributors, with 34 reviews. As Tsana mentions in her wrap-up of speculative fiction, Margo Lanagan’s collections Cracklescape (reviewed by Mel and Dave) and Yellow Cake (reviewed by Heidi, in her admirably titled Salute Your Shorts feature) were popular with readers, as was Kirstyn McDermott’s Caution: Contains Small Parts (reviewed by Stephanie, Mark and Narelle), while Thoraiya Dyer’s Asymmetry proved the most popular work after Kennedy’s Like a House on Fire, with 4 reviews (from Tsana, Alexandra, Mark and Dave).
In contemporary fiction, which includes literary fiction, there were 28 reviews. It’s hard to go past the title of Debra Adelaide’s Letter to George Clooney, reviewed by Kylie in the Newtown Review of Books. Although she found it an engaging read, she was disappointed that some of the stories were so similar, especially as ‘one of the attractions of the short story to both writers and readers is the opportunities the form allows for experimentation with structure, voice and narrative’.
Angela Myer, editor of The Great Unknown, pulled together a selection of stories from some of Australia’s finest writers to unsettle her readers. Also reviewed by Kylie, it sounds like the book is a corker, with novelist Krissy Kneen opening the proceedings with ‘a genuinely spooky tale about a sleepwalking woman and her watchful husband’.
It was also good to see women of diverse heritage being reviewed, with WriteReaderly commenting on Merlinda Bobis’ White Turtle. She found it ‘competent enough’, but wasn’t enamoured, and recommended that readers pick up Bobis’ Fish Hair Woman for a more satisfying read.
Romance stories also featured strongly, with 22 works reviewed. Many of these were single stories, such as Bronwyn Parry’s ‘Dear Ruth’ (reviewed by Brenda, one of our prolific reviewers, and Jess) and Robin Thomas’ ‘Bonjour Cherie’ (reviewed by Lauren).
There were also two reviews of classics by Sue of Whispering Gums, who pays detailed attention to the use of language and its unsettling effects in Barbara Baynton’s ‘Scrammy ‘and’ and ‘A Dreamer’. Historical fiction featured twice, in ‘The Convict’s Bounty Bride‘ and ‘The Last Gladiatrix‘, both reviewed by Lauren. Finally, there was one book of nonfiction, Bush Nurses, reviewed by Marcia.
In all, it seems like reading short stories are an excellent way to sample the diversity of talent in Australia’s women writers. If you’re pressed for time (as so many of us are!), reading stories is a great way to participate in the AWW Challenge in 2014.
As with poetry, if you’d like to see these reviews in their entirety, please head to the Weebly pages listed below.
I’m Jessica White, a writer and researcher. I have a PhD from the University of London and have published two novels with Penguin, A Curious Intimacy (2007) and Entitlement (2012). My short stories and poetry have been published in Overland, Southerly, Island and the Review of Australian Fiction. You can find more information about these at my website. I’m also on Twitter @ladyredjess.